Bills eliminate Patriots as Hamlin lauded

The NFL regular season reached an emotional climax as the Buffalo Bills, inspired by stricken safety Damar Hamlin, beat the New England Patriots 35-23.

With 19 teams still in the post-season hunt entering the final weekend, there was no shortage of suspense unfolding across the United States on Sunday.

But the emotional epicentre was Orchard Park, New York, and a seething Highmark Stadium, where the Bills and their fans led a league-wide tribute in support of Hamlin, the 24-year-old safety who collapsed with cardiac arrest against the Cincinnati Bengals on January 2.

Hamlin, whose heartbeat was restored on the field, spent most of the week on a ventilator in a Cincinnati intensive care unit.

At every stadium before kick-off there was an announcement acknowledging Hamlin and the first responders and medical caregivers, while players wore gear beating Hamlin's number 3 and fans held signs of tribute.

The Bills provided Hamlin with the best tribute of all, harnessing their emotions to secure a victory and the AFC second seed.

With the stadium already crackling with energy, the game got off to an explosive start when Nyheim Hines returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, sending the sold-out crowd into a frenzy, and the Bills on their way to victory.

"We just wanted to come out and play free, play loose, play for (Damar)," said Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who also threw three touchdown passes. "The first kickoff, you couldn't have scripted it any better. That one was pretty emotional ... it was spiritual."

Buffalo will next host Miami, who returned to the post-season for the first time in six years after Jason Sanders kicked three field goals, including a 50-yarder with 18 seconds to play, in a 11-6 win over the New York Jets.

Kansas City secured the number one seed and a first-round bye on Saturday when they beat Las Vegas 31-13.

Cincinnati clinched the AFC third seed, taming Baltimore 27-16 to set up a wildcard rematch between the North division rivals next week.

The other AFC wildcard will have the South Division champion Jacksonville at home against the Los Angeles Chargers, who closed out their regular season with a 31-28 loss to Denver.

In the NFC, Detroit ended the regular season with a shock 20-16 upset of Green Bay at frigid Lambeau Field, denying the Packers a playoff berth and allowing Seattle to snatch the last spot.

The Seahawks had ended the Lions' post-season hopes and kept their own alive with a 19-16 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Rams.

The Seahawks will face the second-seeded San Francisco, who head into the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak after dropping Arizona 38-13.

Philadelphia claimed the NFC top seed and a bye by beating the New York Giants 22-16 for a club record 14th victory.

The Giants still qualified for a wildcard match, where they will face Minnesota.

Dallas head into the playoffs on a losing note, falling 26-6 to the Washington Commanders. The Cowboys face NFC South division champions Tom Brady and Tampa Bay, who were 30-17 losers to Atlanta.